Thursday, 14 February 2013
The greatest gift
News of a pregnancy is just the start of an incredible journey to parenthood that for most of us begins and ends in one big smile (even with the morning sickness, crazy hormones and exhaustion).
After finding out that my then husband and I were to become parents was indeed one of the happiest days of our lives, but life dealt a severe blow when we learned at the 23 week scan that our baby had an enlarged heart. There followed the longest weeks of our life as we had to wait for news of test results and leave the rest to fate, and simply just had to get on with life and hold on with all our heart to the feeling of a growing life inside me.
Sadly, on 22 August 2004 - my birthday - I felt my body change as it started to prepare to deliver our baby three months too soon. I knew our baby daughter was still with us at this time, and I can also pinpoint the exact moment when her life slipped away - it was before the scan told us so, a scan that I still hung onto the hope would reveal that I was wrong.
We had been due to return to St George's Hospital in Tooting on 24 August and would be given the prognosis - but we already knew that if she was born with an enlarged heart we would have had to decide if she should undergo major heart surgery - something that I could not even begin to comprehend for my unborn daughter. A decision that, despite the pain of losing her, I am most grateful we never had to make. Millie was stillborn in the early hours of 24 August 2004 - and as I held her with all my love, all I could think about was not the pain of losing her but how incredibly fortunate I felt to have experienced childbirth. I remember saying this to my mum and I'm sure I must have sounded completely and utterly bonkers!
We were lucky to find ourselves pregnant again very soon after and nine months later I gave birth to S. She was healthy and entered the world with the determination and energy that are the kite marks of her character today. But something wasn't right. Not with her, but with me. I just didn't feel the same way that I had when Millie was born - that bonding moment hadn't happened.
It's not easy to admit to yourself, let alone friends and family, that you're feeling a failure as a mother and those post natal depression check lists are so easy to forge - stupidly, I had decided that I would cope and I wouldn't let the loss of Millie take me down the road of post natal depression, even though I could feel that things weren't right. And so life took its toll and I eventually gave in when S was about 18 months old, and sought help with the anxiety I had started to experience.
And that was the starting point of a new journey for me - a journey, which sadly saw the end of my marriage, but helped me learn to love my daughter. It's hard to imagine ever having to learn to love - especially something as precious as your own baby, but I did and it wasn't easy. But I can remember the day, which coincided with us moving into our new home, when I suddenly felt it and knew what I'd been missing all this time - but it took five years to get there. I'm told that some mothers never feel it, never bond with their children - they may still love and care for them as any mother does, but they don't have that bonding moment - so I think I'm very fortunate to know how that feels now.
I've spoken to other mums who have experienced a stillbirth and I don't think I'm alone in struggling to bond with a baby born thereafter. And I guess it's understandable as we protect ourselves from the fear of it happening again.
Part of my journey in recent years has been spiritual - I found it hard to understand or have any faith after losing Millie - but in recent years have started to understand the reasons why a lot more. When S asked me if Millie had been born would that have meant she wouldn't have been, I answered her truthfully. No she wouldn't have been born, but the best thing about Millie dying was that S was born.
I have always believed that things happen for a reason and that good things come out of difficult times, and also that you should never take anything for granted. I find great comfort in the words of the Dalai Lama and I have been glued to a book by Pete Greig called God on Mute, recommended by a friend who too had trouble bonding with her baby. We're a good source of encouragement to each other - helping to recognise that we are both good mums, doing our best, and perhaps having struggled at the beginning are able to appreciate the gift of our daughters more so than someone who hasn't.
There's a part in God on Mute that made me feel very emotional as it talks from the perspective of a mother who had lost twins at 22 weeks. She was feeling angry and lost, and turned to the church for direction. As she was a former drug addict she was asked by the pastor to share her experience of how drug addition is similar to what Jesus experienced while being lost in the wilderness and she did this by talking to a young daughter whose mum was in prison for crimes relating to drug addiction. She explained that her mother's actions were not because she didn't love her, but because she was broken inside and needed to be fixed. This mum reports how despite the suffering she experienced at losing her babies, being able to bring comfort to this young child made it all worth while - and if she hadn't lost her babies, she wouldn't have been in a place to do this.
In a couple of weekends time I will be attending a training course to become a befriender for Sands - the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society. I've been a member of the Brighton & Hove Sands for the past year and am very much looking forward to giving something back, through the suffering I've experienced, to others in my situation, at at time when the world looks very bleak and you feel lost in the wilderness.
There is something very unique about Sands and its members - we are all united in a sadness but more than that I feel we are united in an understanding and appreciation of suffering and a knowledge that through this we can help others.
This I believe is also one of the greatest gifts of life. "The God of all comfort...comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." Corinthians 1:4